CILLDI anniversary celebration a testament to 20 years of community-building

Gathering celebrates Institute's ongoing commitment to diversity and education

Katherine DeCoste - 16 August 2019

On July 17, over one hundred people gathered under the sun streaming through the Rutherford Library's atrium's glass roof to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute (CILLDI) at the University of Alberta. The space was alive with people talking, sharing memories and greeting old friends and colleagues as the smell of coffee, beef stew and bannock drifted through the air.

CILLDI's anniversary celebrations were a testament to how the Institute has worked to build community, not only on the UAlberta campus and in Edmonton, but nationwide. The largest institution for Indigenous languages in North America, CILLDI has been practicing the objectives identified in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action long before its publication in 2015.

CILLDI, administered jointly by the Faculties of Arts, Education and Native Studies, is committed to honouring, preserving and revitalizing a diverse array of Indigenous languages, with students originating from Canada's northern territories, Alberta, Manitoba, eastern Canada, the United States and even the Philippines. At their 20th anniversary celebratory gathering, students and alumni had the opportunity to have photos taken with signs of their traditional languages, an indication of the sheer diversity of CILLDI's educational mandate. Many students also took the chance to sign a 20th birthday card for CILLDI in their traditional languages, in celebration of the institute's ongoing commitment to diversity and education.

CILLDI Director Jordan Lachler expressed his gratitude for the CILLDI community, especially the volunteers (otherwise known as VESPAs) and instructors who make the language school possible. Large posters featured testimonies from CILLDI participants, with one instructor noting that the chance to teach in her traditional language to others empowered her confidence in that language and allowed her to build community with others.

A week and a half later, CILLDI held its 2019 closing ceremonies. Instructors, volunteers, and students gathered to share a meal, complete with birthday cake, to celebrate 20 years of CILLDI. Students received their Community Linguist Certificates, an accomplishment that is, for many, the culmination of many years of study. They told their stories publicly with the people gathered for the celebration, as CILLDI provided a safe and comfortable space for them to share.

As Michael O'Driscoll, Vice-Dean in the Faculty of Arts stated, "CILLDI is an outstanding example of the ways in which the University of Alberta can collaborate with and benefit Indigenous communities through respectful relations and mutually beneficial programs of teaching and learning. We are so very proud of CILLDI's achievements and grateful for two decades of hard work and commitment on the part of the students, teachers, volunteers and administrators who have made this collective effort such a grand success."

Katherine DeCoste is a student writer for the Arts Collaboration Enterprise